Understandably, there’s a lot of confusion around vaccines at the moment. Young Aussies – and by that we mean, anyone under 40 who doesn’t come under an early vaccine phase – have largely been left out of the conversation. We’ve been told to vaccinate, but given very few instructions on how and when we can do it. Is the AstraZeneca safe? Do we wait for the Pfizer? And when do we get that long-awaited jab?
If you missed it, we put a call-out on our Instagram for your questions (and there were a LOT). Then we spoke to Dr Nick Coatsworth – infectious diseases physician and former deputy Chief Medical Officer – to get some answers for you. You’ll find answers to the biggest questions below.
It’s also worth pointing out a couple things: yes, the Morrison government absolutely ballsed up the vaccine rollout. Yes, it’s unfair that young people are being asked to vaccinate amid endless confusion about what they can get and when – you have every right to be angry with the state of the rollout. And no, none of the content here can make a medical decision for you.
Can we vaccinate ourselves out of the current lockdowns?
Technically, yes. It’s been done: by decreasing the number of people effected (by vaccinating them), you can decrease the epidemic duration.
However, you’d have to ramp up vaccinations by a significant amount – we’re talking a population that’s 40% to 50% vaccinated – and NSW simply can’t get there.
“I think if we optimally used every single means of vaccination, we probably do have that capacity, but there’s no indication based on current levels that we’d be able to do it,” Coatsworth said.
For the record, as of July 15 there were 2,844,766 total vaccinations administered in NSW (the available data doesn’t break it down between first dose and second dose, which is when you’re fully vaccinated), and we have a population of more than eight million people.
That being said, while high vaccination rates might not (read: almost definitely won’t) get Sydney out of this lockdown, but they’ll stop the next one.
And as for Melbourne: fingers crossed it stays at just a five-day lockdown.
I’m under 40: should I wait for Pfizer, or try and get the AstraZeneca?
Oof, this was a big one – we had a lot of questions come through along these lines.
The key thing here is that it depends on your personal health and where you live, and unfortunately is not a decision anyone can make for you.
However, it all comes down to risk. If you get COVID and you’re unvaccinated, then Coatsworth says there’s roughly a one in 1000 chance you’ll go to the ICU.
“If you go to ICU with COVID, everything they do to you there has a risk attached to it,” Coatsworth said.
“Compared to the risk of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it’s not even apples and oranges. It’s not even the same league.
“If you want to get the AstraZeneca now, what you’re really prioritising is to never go to hospital with COVID-19. And if that is a priority for you, then I would suggest in the Greater Sydney area, [getting the AZ vaccine] would be a very reasonable thing to do.”
As of Friday 16 July, there were 17 people in the ICU with COVID, Dr Kerry Chant revealed, and just one of those people had received one dose of a vaccine (in this case, AstraZeneca).
Some of those people are young, too: one in their 20s, one in their 30s, and two in their 40s.
Is the AZ vaccine safe for young people?
Without meaning to sound like a broken record, it’s all to do with risk.
“Safety in terms of a medicine doesn’t mean that there’s nothing wrong with it,” Coatsworth said.
“It means that benefits outweigh the risk. This is where it gets different for a 24-year-old who lives in Sydney versus someone who lives in WA. If you’ve got a 24-year-old who lives in WA, their risk of COVID at the moment is actually zero. They’re comparing a zero risk, with a real risk with AstraZeneca, even thought it’s a tiny one. They might take the view that they want to go with the ‘zero’ risk. Greater Sydney is different because at the moment, your risk of getting COVID is not zero.”
It’s why ATAGI advises the AZ vaccine be used in adults under 60 who live in areas where there’s an outbreak: the (very, very minor) risk of a blood clot is far smaller than the risk of getting COVID.
I want to wait for the Pfizer. Should I register now or wait?
It depends on what state you’re in and how old you are, but if you can book, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Just prepared to be disappointed if there’s no times available, or if you have to wait for a few months.
After a bit of kerfuffle, it was announced that the Pfizer supplies would be moved up from September to July.
From July 19, Australia will be receiving one million doses per week, with the total Pfizer vaccines delivered expected to hit 40 million by the end of 2021.
At a certain point, supply will no longer be an issue and everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. Coatsworth is pretty certain this will happen in the next few months.
What about mixing and matching vaccines?
There’s some data showing that mixing different brands for your first and second vaccine doses works pretty well. Some countries, like Spain and Germany, are already mixing doses by offering Pfizer or Moderna to younger people whose first dose was AstraZeneca.
However, Coatsworth said that if the reason you’re wanting to ‘switch’ doses is due to a blood clot concern, then you probably don’t need to be concerned.
“If you don’t get the blood clotting with the first dose, then your risk gets even tinier with the second dose,” he said.
The main benefit with mixing and matching doses is in supply flexibility.
What about this talk about a third dose?
Coatsworth, take the wheel:
“Yes, it’s a possibility, no it’s not a big deal, because we get booster vaccines all the time.”
It might happen. The UK has revealed plans to do it. We’ll get there if and when we get there.
Can I get the vaccine if I’m pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding?
Again, this is something you should be discussing with your doctor, but it once again comes down to risk. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently updated its statement, acknowledging the risk of community transmission for COVID.
“Based on known data from other similar vaccines, it is unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines pose a risk to a pregnant woman or her fetus,” the advice said.
It also flagged that while most pregnant women who contract COVID will experience only mild or moderate systems, there is an increased risk of severe outcomes for pregnant people and their baby.
“Pregnant women are encouraged to discuss the decision in relation to timing of vaccination with their health professional,” it said. “Women who are trying to become pregnant do not need to delay vaccination or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination.”